The Black Tortoise, Lord of the North, Full Yin.
Have you ever seen the symbols of the Five Elements? There is the cool White Tiger (Bai Hu) who represents the West and the Metal Element, the beautiful Vermillion Bird (Zhu Que) South/Fire, the mystical Azure Dragon (Qing Long) East/Wood and the hornless Yellow Dragon (Huang Long) Center/Earth. Then there’s the Black Tortoise Xuanwu. Not the “coolest” of beasts even with the snake wrapped around him. But this Xuanwu is the god/Patron Saint of Internal Martial Arts.
The English name, Dark Lord of the North, refers to his direction but also to the Water Element, the embodiment of Full Yin. Think of the Yin Yang symbol. The Xuanwu is the black part.
Legend tells us that Xuanwu was a student of the Wudang Arts yet found the training to be beyond his capability (the “dang” in Wudang means capability/deserving) and decided to leave. On his way down the mountain he came across an old woman running a steel pole across a stone as if to sharpen it. Upon enquiring what she was doing, the woman replied she was sharpening the steel pole into a knitting needle. When he told her such a thing would take far too long, the woman replied that if she could sharpen the steel pole into a knitting needle then anything could be achieved with sufficient effort and time. Enlightened, he returned up the mountain and dedicated himself to his study, eventually achieving Immortality.
This Xuanwu is also credited with gifting Chengzi with the power to become Emperor. Such a powerful being deserves further inspection rather than dismissing him as “just” a turtle. The Water Element is represented as shelled animals, dormant state of growth etc. The turtle/tortoise fits right in with this. Today in Wudang there are various Forms that contain his name and his symbol is seen in many Asian countries, held with a deep respect.
Take a look around, there is plenty of information about the Xuanwu. This is not meant as a religious talk, the legendary stories of Xuanwu, as opposed to a modern one where he has lost his power (something akin to Jesus losing the power of healing!) can offer great inspiration to all of us Taijiquan practitioners.
About the author:
Steve Gilshenen is an Australian teaching English language and Chinese martial arts in Japan.
He is the author of the novel, “Mark of the Shaolin,” the first in the “Tigers of Wulin” series, due for release in 2014.
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